Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Poppies, Veterans and Art: Why Together?

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When I was a kid I used to see World War II veterans selling poppies for $1 and I never understood why, until I went to Normandy, France in 2012.  I went on a whirlwind ten-day tour of Paris, Normandy and Brittany with the singer in my husbands band and her student charges. It was definitely the trip of a lifetime and when we visited the Normandy beaches and I saw the thousands of graves- British, Canadian and American, I was moved to tears.

 I hate war like most people, but when I thought about the sacrifice that the men made there and what the world might be like right now if they hadn't, it just took my breath away. Along the way to those beaches and on the road to Mont Saint Michel there were fields upon fields of beautiful poppies.

The wearing of poppies became popular  with this poem written in 1915  by World War I Colonel John McCrae, a surgeon with Canada's First Brigade Artillery.
In Flanders Fields
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly.
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

The poppy has been used as a symbol of remembrance of many wars. It rises from scourged earth, a remembrance of shed blood but also a thing of deep beauty and resilience. It is traditionally worn on Memorial day.

 The poppies invaded my brain ever since that visit and that is why they are showing up in my paintings and on my pottery. They are a happy flower motif, but also the symbol of bravery and sacrifice.
Normandy Cows and Poppies

In honor of those who died in British service, an artist recently installed 888,246  ceramic poppies in the moat around the Tower of London. The installation is called "The Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red"  and has raised millions of dollars for British veterans.

Even though the poppy is traditionally worn on Memorial Day, I thought it would be nice to honor those who served with the symbol of the poppy this Veteran's Day.

 I invite you to post a tribute to our American service both people living and dead by posting a poppy of your own to my Facebook page. 

Draw it, paint it, collage it, make it from clay, words, whatever. Let your creativity shine and show some love for the people who serve and have given us so much! (No stock photos please, but if you would like to attach the name of a soldier you would like to honor please do). 

Please post by Veteran's day Nov. 11, 2014
Poppy Yarn Bowl

Here's where to post: www.facebook.com/risingstarart

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Penland Part 2

My one week course covered a great deal in a short period of time. It was exhilarating and exhausting at the same time as I felt that I always wanted to be working, both because I had paid a tidy sum to be there and because I couldn't  wait to try out what I was learning. One of the really cool things that Brian demonstrated for us was how he made what he calls, "butter houses" by throwing a cylinder on the wheel and altering it by flattening, cutting and shaping the sides.

We also learned how to use a shur form tool (which I had never heard of before) to shape and thin a clay body. We learned a nifty way to work with slabs, how to finish a cut piece with a coiled rope of clay, how to make and attach handles with out having to pull them (yeah!!), how to use white slip over a red clay body to draw or paint on it to add interest, make spouts for pitchers, construct complex multifunctional pieces and decorate with terra sigilata.

Our studio assistants were a couple of crazy talented guys named Brooks Oliver and Don Reynolds whom Brian kept referring to as Brooks & Dunn, which became the running joke. These guys are both very accomplished artists who were always willing to help, were full of knowledge and just lots of fun to be with. If you want to get into the heads of two very interesting people, read Don's biography and Brooks's artist statement. 

Brooks Oliver

Don Reynolds

For my next installment: the people I met including artists and their studios around Penland

Friday, September 26, 2014

Friday, September 12, 2014

Creative Paradise at Penland

The week of August 23 I had the great pleasure of going to Penland School of Crafts in Bakersville, North Carolina. Nestled into the side of a mountain, I approached the school with excitement, zig zagging up the steep road that would lead to my lodging.

I was expecting my digs to be something like camping but was pleasantly surpsied at how nice and clean and modern my double room was. I arrived just in time for dinner on Saturday and stood in line waiting to go through the buffet. My awkward feelings lasted about a nano second. A nice younf guy sporting dreads behind me started a conversation  and as we traded information about our chosen courses of study, I quickly felt at ease. The food at Penland all week was delicious. Every meal was buffet and homemade. They have their own gardens and served up lots and lots of fresh fruits and veggies along with some gourmet type dishes that left me dreading getting on the Weight Watchers scale when I got home since I had lost 37 lbs and just made lifetime membership. (Incredibly, I managed to LOSE.2 lbs when I was afraid that I had probably gained 5!)

The class that I signed up for was on throwing and altering forms on the pottery wheel, creating slump and drop molds and using slip and terra sigillata for surface decoration. I was unsure how I would feel about doing a lot of handbuilding since it hasn't generally been my favorite thing but I was eager to learn new techniques that were easily repeatable in my small studio. Well, I did not come away empty handed. In fact, I left Penland with a wealth of knowledgde and inspiration that I couldn't wait to get home and work on. My instructor Brian R. Jones was a heady and intellectual sort of guy from the west coast. Brian is a skillful professional with high standards for the work he creates, a virtue passed on to his students by way of his lengthy demonstrations.

Before signing up for the class, I googled his name to see his work and see if we were kindred spirits in any kind of way. His work is much, much headier than mine and he  is very intellectual in his approach to form. Where we did meet is in a love of  bright color and crisp white background.

Brian's work

My work

I loved the first excercise that we did with him and that was to drwa the shadow of an object (mine was a teapot) onto some roofing paper and cut it out. From there, we were to take the unknown form and trace it onto a piece of thick styrofoam and cut it out.

Before I knew it, I had created my first drop mold! Many students including myself were somewhat confused by Brians explanation of the process and due to the lack of a "thing" showing what the end product would be, several people were more than overwhelmed. I welcomed the excercise and I thought the lack of information was perhaps by design, orchestrated to get us out of the thinking "now I am going to make an xyz" enabling the process to unfold and letting the shadow and the clay dictate what the "thing" will be. For me it was exciting. I wanted to break out and get back to thinking like an artist and not just a maker of things. Taking it a step further, we laid an extra slab of clay into the drop mold and left a nice size margin around the shape and fired it. My first slump mold was born!

What resulted from the drop mold was a hideous chip and dip. Younger students in the class who could still think art school thoughts created some very interesting scultptural pieces resembling nothing but something born from coils of clay and imagination. In my slump mold, I saw a kitty cat. I decided that's ok, it's who I am…

Abrupt break......In reading over this post, I see that it is awfully long and this just covers my first couple of days at Penland, so in order not to tax your reading time, my dear friends, I think I shall ask you to stay tuned for Part 2 of Creative Paradise at Penland…keep making stuff!

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Overcoming artistic isolation

Some of my friends and I were talking about how easy it is for us to isolate ourselves as stay-at-home moms and artists. Even though most of us are empty-nesters now it seems there's always a laundry list of things that need to get done and the day just wizzes by without having seen anyone. It gets lonely.

One day in June, we found a way to end our isolation and work at the same time which is absolutely wonderful. On a day that was kind of iffy in terms of the weather  (it was supposed to rain at about 1 o'clock and come down torrentially)  there was some apprehension about going outdoors to do some plain air painting. But being a daring women that we are we opted to head out anyway at about 10:30 in the morning and met at a local park where there is a beautiful spring house and pond which is great fodder for outdoor painting.
Mary at work
Not be much of a landscape artist myself, it was a challenge for me, and I have to admit not something  terribly interesting to me. But I did enjoy and appreciate the company and talent of my three friends. Jeanne hails from Wallingford, Pennsylvania and  is an art historian and the editor of my book, "Millicent and the Faraway Moon" She is a very talented artist in her own right. She was working on watercolors and chose a nice shady spot for herself where she managed to knock out two beautiful little paintings in the time we were there until about two at 2 PM.
My setup with Mary and Kathy
The springhouse and pond

Mary and Kathy and I seemed to cluster in the same spot across from the springhouse.  Mary and  I concentrated on painting the springhouse and the pond while Kathy was painting some trees and a clearing to the  right. Mary was working in acrylics. She is a fiber artist by training but also loves to paint and studied with Al Staszetsky in the past.

Lots of gear to haul
Kathy at work
Kathy is a tremendous oil painter. Her sense of color, painterly brushstrokes and traditional style really take my breath away. It was really because of her that we were out there yesterday both because of our isolation but because she had been told by a painting instructor that she needed to get out more and try landscape as she is primarily a trompe l'oeil and portrait painter.
Kathy's painting

Me, you know what I do. As I said landscape is something that doesn't tremendously interest me to paint.  I have done it on occasion because I've been inspired by a beautiful place and somehow I think miraculously I'm going to become one of those amazing landscape painters who can capture the beauty that God created.  However that's not the case. Whenever I start to paint the fact that I am a humble self-taught folk artist quickly emerges.

As I see my friends around me painting with reds and blues and yellows and oranges and a landscape that I mostly see as sheets of green I really end up feeling quite inept. But that's ok. As artists, we all have our moments of challenge and doubt. if we don;t allow ourselves to get too caught up in it, it will just propel us on to the next thing.
Jeanne at work on her watercolors
Jeanne's lovely pantings
The beginnings of my painting

The other thing for me is that I've really fallen in love with pottery. I still love to paint, but I'm not sure that I am a painter anymore. We have decided to do these painting sessions on a regular basis. Our next one is going to take place at a winery that has beautiful historic buildings and well, yeah, wine. (teehee)
Me and a sweet furry visitor

Kathy with our strolling friends

A big wind on Mary
Our potluck lunch